Taxpayers shouldn’t pay government unions to lobby Congress 

Only in the Fantasyland-on-the-Potomac would work by federal civil service employees on behalf of their unions be classified by government as “voluntary” activity.

Believe it or not, though, that’s exactly what the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, which oversees the
2.1-million-member career civil service, calls union work performed in the workplace by bureaucrats who are officials of their employee unions. Not only is that label misleading, the union officials’ salaries and benefits are paid by the taxpayers, even as they perform duties that have absolutely nothing to do with the jobs for which they were hired.

These are not insignificant costs, either, as the OPM estimates total federal civilian personnel costs at more than $230 billion annually. The value of all that “volunteer” union work exceeded $129 million in 2009, a 6.3 percent increase over the previous year, according to the OPM.

Worse yet, thanks to multiple rulings by the Federal Labor Relations Authority, taxpayers are forced to pay these salaries and benefits even if the employees are “visiting, phoning and writing to Congress in support of legislation” supported by their unions. And remember, Congress sets pay and benefit levels for career civil servants, who are not allowed under federal law to negotiate compensation levels.

Since it seems safe to assume that such lobbying is never on behalf of reducing civil service pay and benefits, taxpayers are effectively being forced to fund government workers as they lobby to increase government spending.

The largest of the civil service unions, the American Federation of Government Employees, spent $4.1 million on politics and lobbying, according to its 2010 LM-2 report. The total for the National Treasury Employees Union, the second largest, was $1.8 million. You can reward a lot of friends in Congress for their votes with $5.9 million to spend on television spots and get-out-the-vote drives. And we haven’t yet mentioned that the government employee unions also give gobs of campaign contributions to senators and representatives who vote their way.

With Congress struggling to eliminate unnecessary spending, ending taxpayer subsidies of federal employee unions ought to be a no-brainer. As James Sherk, labor analyst for the Heritage Foundation, told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee earlier this year, “Collective bargaining agreements and grievance systems serve the private interests of federal employees. Those employees should fund the cost of union representation themselves. Congress can alleviate unions’ concerns about representing employees who do not pay union dues by eliminating the requirement that they do so.”

At the very least, Congress should make the civil service unions fund their lobbying out of their dues revenue. A bill introduced by Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga., would do just that. As the Capital Research Center’s Vincent Vernuccio notes, “In 2010 AFGE spent less than one-quarter of its $103 million revenues — $23.7 million — on representing workers.”

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